Self-drive the Golden Circle of Iceland. A day trip to natural wonders in Iceland and end the day in a hot spring. Do it yourself, without a guide! Read below how easy this day trip is!
This day trip is perfect if you have a short weekend trip or a layover in Iceland. This trip will make your time worthwhile. We will show you how to see the best of Iceland without having to spend a ton of money nor joining boring crowded tours! Hear it from a local 🙂
You’ve probably seen this route many times if you’ve been researching your trip to Iceland. Rightfully so, these places are a must-see during your visit to Iceland and will take your breath away. However, there is no need to join an expensive tour. All roads are accessible with normal cars (in normal weather conditions), so no reason to hire an expensive 4×4 either! Follow us as we take you along the Golden Circle of Iceland. Show you how easy it is to do by yourself, and end the day in the best possible way: In a natural hot spring!
Another adventurous day trip from Reykjavik is a hike up to the Glymur Waterfall!
Iceland’s second-highest Waterfall!
About the Golden Circle
The golden circle in Iceland traditionally encompasses three amazing destinations: Thingvellir, Gullfoss, and Geysir. But the area around these places has a lot of alternative stops, we will show you a few. What makes the golden circle so popular is its proximity to Reykjavik. Even if you only have a day or two in Iceland, you can still experience the astonishing, raw nature of Iceland by going to these places.
Since I am from Iceland I have gone to these places many many times, and yet I am still just as amazed by it as the last time I was there. This kind of nature never gets old. Now, you could spend a day or two exploring each of these places, as they are all very special. But a day trip like this will definitely be enough and make you want to come back to Iceland again and again! Below you can find the route we recommend and a few alternative options.
Below I will go into a bit more detail about each of the stops along the golden circle so you know what you will be looking at!
First stop: Thingvellir
From Reykjavik to Thingvellir: 47km – about 1 hour of driving.
The drive from Reykjavik to Þingvellir is special on its own, on your way there you will see fluffy friendly horses and many sheep. This is my favorite place in this area. I really like both history and geology – this place has it all. Þingvellir is the birthplace of Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, founded in 930. Yes, this is where Vikings came together and made law and order! For Icelanders, this is, therefore, a special, historical place.
What is also special, probably the most special, about Þingvellir is its geology. Þingvellir is a natural wonder on a global scale. What you will see are two tectonic plates that are drifting away from each other, creating huge canyons, waterfalls and, lakes. To put it in simpler terms, this is where the country is being split in two by massive natural forces. When you get there, you walk into one of these canyons, feeling the real force of nature. There is a visitor center by the parking spots with more info and a cafe where you can stop for a coffee. The national park has a great website with more resources if you want to learn more about the history and nature!
Follow the path from the visitor center all through the canyon all the way to Oxarárfoss (waterfall), this will take you about an hour or so.
Second stop Geysir:
From Þingvellir to Geysir: 60km – about 1 hour of driving.
The next stop is Geysir, the geothermal area where we will be looking at exploding geysers and bubbling mud.
This is the home of THE Geysir, the one that all other geysers are named after. It is a geothermal area where you can see one of the world’s most active geyser, called Strokkur. Unfortunately, THE Geysir does not erupt very often anymore, the last time it erupted was after a big earthquake in 2000. If/when Geysir does erupt, it can go up to 70m high. Strokkur, on the other hand, is more reliable and erupts every 5-7 minutes. Going up to 15-20m. catching Strokkur erupt is always so spectacular. Just to see all this power explode from the ground is breathtaking. Just be careful and don’t stand against the wind, or you will get a shower from Strokkur 🙂 The area surrounding the geysers is full of rich smells, colors, and sights. I can almost guarantee that you have never seen anything like this before!
Third stop: Gullfoss
From Geysir to Gullfoss: 10km – about 10 min of driving.
After a short drive from Geysir, we arrive at Gullfoss, one of Iceland’s most spectacular waterfalls.
In my opinion, Gullfoss is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland and is a must-see. Its name means Golden waterfall, it comes from the golden hue it sometimes gets due to the way the sun hits it. The waterfall has two “falls”, the first one is about 11m, and the second one 21m, cascading into a crevasse that is about 35m deep. As you can imagine, it is very powerful. Its power and size are so great, I always get full of energy just being in its vicinity. Remember to bring your raincoat! Even though it was not raining when we were there, we got sprayed on by the mist from the waterfall. We got soaking wet! All part of the Icelandic experience 🙂
Hrunalaug Hot spring (alternative):
From Gullfoss to Hrunalaug: 32km – 30 min of driving.
Now it’s time for our favorite recommendation, ending
The way there is fairly straightforward, but parts of the road are gravel, but it is a good gravel road. No worries, normal cars are allowed to go there, no need for 4x4s. Just drive slowly, admire the nature around you and, enjoy the drive. This is a great stop to do after a busy day of exploration. On your way back to Reykjavik, stop by in Hrunalaug. Nothing better than ending the day surrounded by nature in a hot spring. There is a small parking lot where the hot spring is and from there you’ll follow a short path to the spring. Next to the spring is a traditional-looking house, which can be used as a changing room. The hot spring has a perfect warm temperature all year around.
There are essentially 3 pools you can be in. The small concrete one (fits about 2 people) right in front of the changing room. Then two next to the changing rooms where you can lay down and relax with a cold drink. Note that it is on private land, so the landowner sometimes charges entrance into it. Just to fund the upkeep of the place. Of course, please do not leave any trash behind, this is nature – respect it.
That was our day of self-driving the golden circle of Iceland. From here you can drive back to Reykjavik (1,5-hour drive) or make your way towards Selfoss in case you want to continue your trip on the NR1 ring road. Going towards, Vik, Hofn.
Below we have another alternative recommendation as a stop on the golden circle.
Solheimar Ecovillage (alternative):
From Reykjavik to Solheimar: 85km – 1 hour and 15 min of driving.
From Geysir to Solheimar: 38km – 30 min of driving.
This is an ideal stop on your way to or from the Golden circle. This place holds a special spot in my heart. It is a village of about 100 people who all work and live together. They grow their own food, make their own art, and learn together! You can visit there and get delicious fresh vegetables and look at beautiful art. The idea behind this place is to give everyone in society a fair opportunity and chance to grow and develop, with their disabilities. There the focus is on each person’s capabilities and development. I really encourage you to visit this place and spend some time there. They also hold workshops on many different things, be sure to look at what they offer! Check out their website for more information and working hours.
How to Self-drive the Golden Circle of Iceland.
This is the option that we recommend you to do. Renting a car gives you so much freedom. You can drive any route you want and stop as long as you want at each location. This is a great way to see Iceland and its nature properly. Yes it is a bit more pricey than taking a tour, but it will pay off, and you will be glad you self-drove. I put in Hrunalaug and Solheimar as alternative add-ons to the golden circle, there are many many more. You can stop at multiple other locations, such as Kerid crater that’s the beauty of having your own car – you can stop wherever you want and whenever you want.
Read the post about our self-drive adventure in the Pamir highway, learn why self-driving is truly the best way to explore a country!
Like I said above, the Golden Circle is one of Iceland’s most popular routes, therefore many many tour companies offer tours there. The tours are many and versatile, offering different things. Yes, it is cheaper than renting a car, but remember, you will always be in a big group of people – having to follow time restrictions and specific routes. Taking a tour is ideal if you do not want to rent a car or you simply don’t want the hassle of self-driving in Iceland – then a tour is perfect for you!
Car rental – €100 – €170, depending on when and what type of car you get. (a small simple car will suffice for this trip, 4×4 is not necessary, depending on the weather)
Tour – €50 – €100, depending on what is included in the tour.
Parking at Þingvellir – 750isk ( €7.5 at the time of writing)
Hrunalaug – 1000isk (€10 at the time of writing)
Where to stay during Self-drive the Golden Circle of Iceland.
As this is a day trip from Reykjavik, you can stay in Reykjavik. There are also a few hotels and guesthouses in the surrounding area.
If you want to extend this trip to two days, camping is also a great, cheap option. If you want to stay in the marvelous nature of Thingvellir for example, it is possible to pitch up your tent there – click here for more info. The lovely little town of Selfoss also has a nice camping ground, you can read more about it on tjalda.is/en/gesthus.
What to bring during Self-drive the Golden Circle of Iceland?
The weather in Iceland is unpredictable. It can be sunny in Reykjavik and raining in Þingvellir and vice versa. You never know what you’re going to get. Be sure to check the weather before you go, especially in the winter. The key to Iceland is layers, always bring layers.
- A raincoat is a must
- Hat and mittens (if it’s cold)
- Lunch and dinner (cheaper to bring it with)
Tip: Shop at Bónus grocery store, they have the best prices 🙂
When to Self-drive the Golden Circle of Iceland?
It is open all year long so, in theory, you can go all year round. Winter and summer change these areas a lot and I would say that you have to come during both seasons to see these places in their full glory. See the pictures below, highlighting the difference!
But, be aware that the weather can get very bad in winter and always check the weather before you go. Go to Vedur.is for the most accurate and up to date readings. Especially if you are self-driving, you need to be aware that in Iceland, mother nature is in charge. In the summers, it is amazing – you could go in the middle of the night even and it will be bright from the midnight sun and hang out in the hot spring until very late.
Self-drive Golden Circle of Iceland
That’s it! In the unlikely case, you are not convinced to do the Gold Circle of Iceland. Watch this youtube video below!
Want to get more info about this trip or any other trip, send us a message!